(Due to a glitch in the Menu, there are links to each reference here and at the bottom)
What have we got?
First we have to find out what we are dealing with.
That means finding the Reference Number in the case-back, and the Serial number in the movement.
If you are new to Speedmasters – especially if you are new to vintage watches, do not skip this page. It is relevant for each of the watches we look at and should be read in conjunction with the detailed reference pages.
Most sellers will have opened the watch and photographed the inside, but if you buy it you need to check. We need to open the watch and establish:
- The calibre, 861 or 321
- The movement number. Eight digits.
- The case reference, from inside the case back.
So the watch needs to be opened, using the proper tool. Since this site was first written, Mr Pahawi has come up with this most excellent tool, that you can order by contacting him direct. See the page here or link at the sidebar.
Up until now I use this three pronged tool. This can slip, and the pegs are round not square – but it is still much safer than the two prong items that I will never use.
Inside you will see the movement dust cover. Sometimes this falls off, or can be lifted off with Blu-tac. If it is tight I use a razor knife and use the blade to get between the cover and the movement. Insert the blade near the crown to avoid accidentally lifting the movement,
The movement should be an Omega signed, copper coloured 321 or 861 calibre, and the serial marked with eight digits.
Lemania made similar movements for other brands, (and themselves) and the parts from these are a different colour, but interchangeable. In fact entire Lemaina movements can be transplanted into a Speedmaster. This is why it is so important to see inside, even if you think you don’t know what you are doing, you can still check the movement is copper coloured, signed, and numbered.
Armed with the calibre, and the case reference we can check the movement serial falls within accepted ranges for the reference. Speedmaster year dating is not precise, and have always used Roman Hartmans table as a quick reference – it is superseded now in terms of accuracy by the MWO book but for a quick reference I still use it. Though I place far more importance in matching the serial to the caseback. Both calibres were fitted to other Omegas, but the serial ranges are different. The only sure fire way to know if the watch you are looking at is correct is to spend CHF120 with Omega and order an extract.
The case reference is engraved in the inside of the case back. Later references, from 2998-62, carry a two digit year after the reference.
|Straight Lug Case||Asymmetric Case|
- The asymmetric case came in both calibres,
- The straight lug only carried a 321.
- The 861 was only used in the asymmetric case.
- The full list of references and sub references is here.
So now you should know:
- The Case Reference
- The Calibre
- The Movement Serial
Now you can check the movement number fits the observed ranges for the reference. Then using the price chart get an idea of what the price might be. For every flaw or incorrect part, the value is reduced. Remember the price chart needs to be used with caution.
When I first see a watch, I ask myself if I like the look of it. Does it give me pleasure to see it? This for example does:
Buying a watch that initially seems good, but on subsequent inspection and after gaining knowledge turns out to be a mismatched collection of parts gives a terrible feeling and I hope on reading this you will never get it.
Here is my first big lesson:
We are talking about vintage tool watches. As of 2016, the youngest is around 38 years old. A 2915 will be over 58 years old. There will be a balance to be found between age and condition. If I sought only collector quality faultless watches I would have only one watch – and for some people that is enough, and they wont be happy with anything less. It took me 10 years to find that watch, and the only reason I recognized for what it was, is because of the others I had bought. That’s just me. I buy watches in less than perfect condition, but I modify my bid. But then I also enjoy watches that honestly show their history, dents, scratches damage and all.
Remember these are tool watches, not dress watches. The standard of condition is much higher for dress watches, where I would expect to see less evidence of use.
Things that will stop my buying a watch altogether:
- an over polished case
- new or badly damaged dial
- water damaged movement
The dial and the case are the two most valuable parts of the watch.
And here is a dial, so poor that even I could not use it:
Using the following pages, you can establish the likelihood of the watch being original, or at least looking original. And we are talking probabilities, as we cannot be sure if a watch has the same equipment as when it left the factory. I have seen 2998’s with superliminova hands where the owners swear it has never been serviced. People are not necessarily dishonest, but manage to tell themselves a story so many times they believe it. Trust no one.
My goal is to have a watch that looks as original as possible.
If a watch has new dial and hands, or case it is not interesting. For example Omega supply an asymmetric service case for 321’s called a 145.0012. I have seen more than one watch built up into one of these cases.
Box and Papers can be a red herring and, many times, are a married set – ie not original. If a document has a serial on it then that’s interesting, and does add a little value. However when choosing between two watches, I will always choose the better condition over the paperwork. If I am offered a NOS watch and it doesn’t have B&P’s, then I wonder how it was completely unused and yet lost those? My advice is do not put too much store in B&P’s. Buy the watch, not the papers.
We must go through the watch under consideration carefully checking that each part is original specification, undamaged and in good condition. In order of importance by value are:
- The Dial
- The Case
- The movement
- The bezel
- The hands
Note: In the 861 references the dial value is less than the case, however I still base my decision primarily on the dial, then consider the case.
In the older references the cases are almost always polished, or worn. The dials can fade, and this fade can either add value or reduce depending if it is attractive or not. The movement can almost always be saved, and hands and bezels are service parts so often replaced with incorrect ones, but these are an simple fix, if more expensive and getting harder to find now than before.
Things that will stop me buying a watch are a damaged case, either by corrosion or trauma, and a damaged or refinished dial.
The one thing that I will buy a watch for, even if everything else is wrong, is the dial. If the dial is nice, I want it. The dial is the heart of the value. A flawless 2998 dial is worth 3000 to 6000.
An example of Patina vs Condition:
The above photo shows three identical references, with the exception of the production date. The far right hand watch has a dial and handset the same colour as when they left the factory. On the left, the two dials have degraded to a pleasing brown colour, and the hands have also changed. This kind of degredation is valued. The watch in the centre cost more than the two either side combined.
Which brings me to another important point. It is quite possible to pick up a pleasingly degraded watch for less than a good condition one. The value only appears once WE, the buyers, value it. Sometimes a degraded watch gets into the hands of an Italian or French dealer, where they give it a kiss of approval and off it goes into a rich collectors pocket for $9,000+.
Now we can look at the individual references, starting with the 2915
Links to all reference pages: